Image: The Everett Collection
There are a handful of television shows that truly, boldly broke new ground in their depiction of the real-world. The Rifleman was the first show to center around a single father. The 1972-73 ABC sitcom The Corner Bar was the first series to feature a recurring LGBT character. Julia is one of those shows.
Premiering in the fall of 1968 on NBC, Julia starred Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker, a nurse and widowed mother raising her young son, Corey. Not only was Carroll playing a single mom in a sitcom, but she was also one of the first black women in a non-stereotypical role on television. Before, roles for women of color were generally relegated to servant parts, secondary characters and the like. But here was a working professional. The show was not without its critics — Gil Scott-Heron lumps Julia in the same line with Bullwinkle, the cartoon moose, in his immortal poem-song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" — but it mattered. Significantly.
With the talented Carroll in the lead, Julia lasted three seasons – just as long as Star Trek, Batman and Gilligan's Island.
Carroll was no stranger to television. She appeared on the small screen way back in 1954, singing "Why Was I Born?" from the musical Sweet Adeline on the talent showcase Chance of a Lifetime. The performance earned her the top prize of $1,000.
Her transition into musicals and theatre was natural. She made huge strides in the business, including landing a role in the 1959 film adaptation of Porgy and Bess (which dubbed her voice over with an opera singer). Her next step was even larger, landing the leading role in the 1962 stage production of No Strings, a part which earned her a Tony Award for best actress, the first ever given to a black woman.
Meanwhile, on television, she continued to land a couple of parts in noir shows Peter Gunn and Naked City.
After Julia, in the Seventies, Carroll turned up a guest star in both The Love Boat and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Her next major role came in 1984, when she vamped it up as the diva Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty. The character appeared in 74 episodes and crossed over the spin-off The Colbys.
Carroll continued to grace dramas in the 21 century, nabbed recurring roles on Grey's Anatomy and White Collar. Over the decades, she also continued to record albums and belt out tunes on Broadway.
On Friday, October 4, Carroll died in her home in Los Angeles, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 84.
Watch her performance on Peter Gunn in the episode "Sing a Song of Murder" below.